In order for us to fall asleep, we all need to accrue a “sleep debt,” which lets us feel tired and ready for bed. Napping cuts into that sleep debt and leads to difficulties falling asleep, or sleeping in increasingly disjointed chunks. To keep your sleep schedule more regular, and your sleep more restful, it’s better to avoid napping at all and instead let yourself be a little more tired going into the evening. Worst case, if you simply must take a nap, try to keep it brief and before the early evening. A better alternative might be taking a brief walk outside, doing some stretching, or spending a few minutes on an enjoyable task (like playing a game) before returning to your to-do list.
As a health psychologist, I’m big on exercise! It helps regulate your mood, keeps your body in shape, and improves health. But regular exercise can also really improve your sleep! The key is to exercise at the right times, namely in the mornings, afternoons, or early evenings. Regular exercise helps regulate and deepen our sleep overall. However, exercising tends to amp us up for a few hours afterwards because of the hormones it tells our brain to release. So if you’re one of those people who like to hit the gym or go for a run late at night, this may be contributing to your sleep difficulties. Instead, make sure that you exercise at least three hours before bed or earlier.
Our brains just love patterns and routines. Creating a relaxing bedtime ritual trains our brains that it’s time for bed and helps us relax and get ready to fall sound asleep. What kinds of activities make good pre-bed rituals? Try relaxing, screen-free experiences like going through and turning off or dimming the lights in the house, taking a nice warm bath, meditating, and reading (just nothing too saucy!), all of which are excellent ways to relax the body and mind for sleep. Make sure to use this same ritual each night and remember that it may take some time for your brain to catch on.
We spend a third of our lives asleep, and yet so many of us pay very little attention to the room (and furniture) we spend this time in! A comfortable and supportive mattress and pillow goes a long way. If you have the money, a great bed is a wise investment in your overall health. Make sure your bedroom can be made nice and dark, and if you’re a clock watcher, then make sure you can’t see the clock from your pillow. I’ve previously discussed the importance (in Sleep Tip #8) of keeping your TV and computer(s) out of the bedroom and using the bed (or entire bedroom ideally) for only sleeping and sex. Finally, make sure the temperature feels comfortable or you, but err on the side of cooler versus warmer, as experts find that cooler bedrooms tend to help people sleep better. With just a little work, your bedroom can be transformed from a multi-function all-purpose room into a pleasure palace of great sleep!